By Patrick Dearen, Pecos River Resolution Corporation
Drought conditions and salinity alleviation efforts were among the topics discussed at the Pecos River Commission’s 69th annual meeting on April 10 in Midland, Texas.
The Commission administers the 1948 Pecos River Compact, which dictates the division of the river’s waters between New Mexico and Texas. The meeting was co-hosted by Pecos River Resolution Corporation and Red Bluff Water Power Control District.
Drought in the Pecos headwaters has reached unprecedented levels. Snow depth at Wesner Springs, a monitoring station at 11,120 feet 16 miles north-northeast of Pecos, New Mexico, registered zero inches April 9. By comparison, the snowpack on the same date measured 26 inches in 2016, 25 inches in 2015, 8 inches in 2014, 11 inches in 2013, and 25 inches in 2012.
Not since 2011 has the snowpack registered zero inches on April 9, but earlier that year 32 inches were on the ground at Wesner Springs. The maximum depth recorded in 2018 was only seven inches, recorded February 26.
In regard to salinity alleviation efforts, the Malaga Bend project “has been doing its job,” reported Suzy Valentine, engineering advisor for Texas. The bend, located 17 miles southeast of Carlsbad, New Mexico, has brine springs that have long been a culprit in adding to the downstream salt load, particularly at Red Bluff Reservoir just inside Texas.
Southwest Salt Company initiated a salt removal project at Malaga Bend in 2013. Valentine reported that the company is now shipping 50,000 tons of salt per year from its four 20-acre evaporation ponds. A fifth pond, consisting of 10 acres, should be in operation this summer.
The efforts, said Valentine, have resulted in a 26% reduction in the salt load of the Pecos before it flows into Red Bluff Reservoir. She added that Southwest Salt hopes to be able to ship 100,000 tons per year of salt per year in the future. The salt is used primarily for water softening, with a smaller percentage used for highway de-icing and cattle feeding.
Any efforts at removing salt at Malaga Bend have little effect on the Pecos in the mid-Texas reach, due to massive salt-loading in a 100-mile stretch between Coyanosa and Girvin.